LEWISTON — A fresh face joined the Hershey Bears this week, in time to help the team in its chase for the playoffs.

In his first professional game, Caleb Herbert delivered at the expense of the Portland Pirates, who suffered their second one-goal defeat in as many nights Wednesday, falling to Herbert and the Bears, 3-2.

“If you stood this game by itself, and forgot everything else, with the effort, even though you don’t win, the execution and the effort were there,” Pirates coach Ray Edwards said. “You feel good about the game. But because of everything else that’s going on, it’s just another loss.”

The loss drops the Pirates to 24-34-2-8 on the year. Their 24 wins are the fewest in the American Hockey League.

Despite the prominence of Hershey newcomer Herbert, the Bears relied heavily on a veteran presence to lock the game down once they took a one-goal lead at the 8:43 mark of the second period.

“They’re a veteran team, they’re not going to panic,” Edwards said. “They just stuck with the game.”

In the third, Hershey (35-25-4-4, 8th in the East) clamped down on defense.

“The third period, we didn’t get a lot of chances in the third,” Edwards said, “but we got a couple good ones, and those are the ones you have to find a way to finish.”

Herbert wasn’t the only player making his professional debut, as the Pirates welcomed defender Kevin Raine and forward Yan-Pavel Laplante to the team. In all, 10 of the 20 Pirates dressed Wednesday were not on the roster when the season began.

“We put some young guys in there, we had some life,” Edwards said. “I liked our game, but when you put young guys in, you get energy, but you get mistakes, too. We had mistakes that cost us there on the first and the third goals. But overall, we had chances, and we had a good opportunity there at the end to tie it.

“It’s a little more scrambly, there’s not as much structure there,” Edwards added. “They’re still learning, some of them came in yesterday, and we’re giving them a crash course on how we play.”

Despite ceding the first five shots on goal and being hemmed in their own zone for the better part of the first five minutes, the Pirates struck first, getting a goal at 5:05 on a turnaround slapper from Tobias Rieder.

It took Hershey 27 seconds to retaliate. Jeff Taffe converted on a feed from Herbert to knot the game at 1-1.

But the Pirates, again seemingly against the flow of play, added another on a fast rush. This time, Jordan Martinook collected the puck at the right wall and zipped it across to Andy Miele in the low slot. Miele caught the pass, slung the puck to his backhand and slid it into the open cage for a 2-1 Portland lead.

The Bears equalized again early in the second. Herbert, who played three years at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, collected his first goal on a nifty backhand shot that he slipped through Louis Domingue’s pads just 21 seconds into the period.

Hershey grabbed its first lead of the night at 8:43 of the second when former Pirate Matt Watkins found Kris Newbury at the left post for a tap-in on a 2-on-2 rush.

Despite the back-to-back, 3-2 losses, Edwards was also complimentary of Domingue.

“He’s had back-to-back, pretty good games,” Edwards said. “He was solid (Tuesday) and he didn’t have to be great tonight, but it’s good that he’s had a couple of good games in a row.”

Note: New Pirates addition Greg Carey, who is with the team on an ATO after his college season for St. Lawrence wrapped up, was named Wednesday as one of three finalists for the Hobey Baker Award, handed out each season to the top player in the NCAA. Boston College standout Johnny Gaudreau and St. Cloud State’s Nic Dowd are the other two finalists.


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